It was Leeds Rhinos who booked their place in the Grand Final following an 18-14 win over Wigan Warriors at Headingley-Carnegie on Friday night.
It was a real tight affair with so much at stake neither wanted to give anything away.
It looked as if Leeds had won it as Keith Senior crossed and Sinfield converted and then added a further 2 points to make it 14-2 just after the hour mark but Wigan were not done. A Hansen try and Richards goal meant a nail biting end. That before Lee Smith grabbed his second try and even then the Warriors scored again through Paleaaesina which Richards goaled to make it 18-14.
It was the second time in two years these two sides were paired in the Final Eliminator and unlike 12 months ago Wigan were in this all the way to the end. A brave effort against the current Super League Champions and full credit to the team as they gave everything.
The Wigan fans applauded the team as the season drew to a close and with it meant the end of Trent Barrett, Mickey Higham, Liam Colbon and Mark Calderwood in a Warriors shirt.
Leeds looked to put pressure on the Warriors in the opening exchanges with a couple of high Kevin Sinfield bombs. Pat Richards did well to take the ball under pressure in his own in goal area following a Burrow kick.
Leeds winger Lee Smith was put on report on ten minutes by Steve Ganson following a stray boot on Phil Bailey as he got up to try and play the ball. Shortly after the home side wasted a good position with a poor kick close to the Warriors danger area.
On 13 minutes the Warriors got the closest to the first points, Carmont off loaded close to the Leeds line but Harrison Hansen was unable to take the low pass.
Wigan forced a Leeds knock on from McDonald following a long Barret kick with 17 minutes on the clock.
Two minutes later Jones-Buchanan made a great break down the middle from half way but didn’t have the legs to go all the way and was stopped by Mark Calderwood. From the play the ball Calderwood stopped a quick play and tried to steal possession. The two sets of players got involved and when it had died down Calderwood was sent to the sin bin and Keith Senior followed as both sides were down to 12 men for a ten minute spell. Kevin Sinfield kicked the penalty, 2-0.
Wigan drew level on 29 minutes through a Richards penalty 18 metres out, McGuire’s arm catching Hock high, 2-2.
On 34 minutes came the games first try, Burrow darting looking for a gap before McGuire with the long cut out pass to send in Lee Smith out wide, that after Wigan had been penalised in their own half. Sinfield missed the goal, 6-2. That’s how it stayed until the interval.
On 45 minutes, Leeds were denied a try by the video referee, Lauitiiti from a McDonald break but he was clearly unable to ground the ball on the final tackle and a hand over was given.
On 49 minutes the Rhinos came close again, a McGuire kick, Lauitiiti palmed the ball back inside to Jones-Buchanan, Mark Calderwood sending the second rower into touch with a great tackle to deny the try.
On 53 minutes the Rhinos looked to open Wigan up, Burrow with a run on the final tackle, Mark Calderwood to the rescue again to stop the scrum half.with another important tackle for the cherry and whites.
On 57 minutes Mathers and Colbon were unable to stop Leeds prop Jamie Peacock from close range and it looked a touchdown. The video referee Ian Smith taking 5 minutes before deciding the ball had not been grounded much to the dismay of the home fans.
On 59 minutes the pressure finally told, quick hands from right to left and Scott Donald with an inside pass to Keith Senior for the games second try. Kevin Sinfield struck a superb goal from the touch line to make it 12-2 to the Rhinos.
Sinfield added a further penalty on 68 minutes to make it 14-2 which meant Wigan required two scores just to draw level.
With six minutes left Wigan got over the whitewash themselves, the Warriors keeping the ball alive and it was Harrison Hansen with the try. Richards added a great goal to make it 14-8.
The game was won on 77 minutes, a wayward Paleaaesina pass was seized by Smith who kicked on to gather and score his second try of the night, the goal was missed, 18-8.
The Warriors were still not done on 78 minutes Paleaaesina scored, Richards converted, 18-14. Any chance of a sensational finish was lost as Wigan knocked on from the restart.
As the clock ticked there was no way back and it was Leeds who go to Old Trafford for the Grand Final to face St Helens.Wigan fans though proud of a great spirited performance.
Team News -
Brent Webb, Lee Smith, Carl Ablett, Keith Senior, Scott Donald, Danny McGuire, Rob Burrow, Kylie Leuluai, Matt Diskin, Jamie Peacock, Jamie Jones-Buchanan, Gareth Ellis, Kevin Sinfield
Replacements - Ali Lauitiiti, Ryan Bailey, Nick Scruton, Ian Kirke
Richard Mathers, Mark Calderwood, Cameron Phelps, George Carmont, Pat Richards, Trent Barrett, Thomas Leuluai, Stuart Fielden, Mickey Higham, Andy Coley, Harrison Hansen, Phil Bailey, Joel Tomkins
Replacements - Iafeta Paleaaesina, Gareth Hock, Liam Colbon, Tim Smith